Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan yesterday outlined a series of steps to reduce rapes and sexual assaults in the county detention center and said he would retain the jail director, Arnett Gaston.
Hogan made his remarks at a press conference, which he said he called in response to a series of articles in The Washington Post. The Post series reported that men were raped and sexually assaulted on the average of 12 times a week, according to guards and inmates, in cells that are beyond the vision of any guard. Many of the victims are awaiting trial, some on such charges as shoplifting, trespassing and driving while intoxicated.
Hogan said he was unaware of the severity of the problem until reading the series.
"I have been well aware of the problem of rapes at all penal institutions," Hogan said. "But frankly I was revolted in reading these stories over the horrors taking place in a subculture of our society right here in Upper Marlboro."
Hogan said that rapes and sexual assaults were "one of the grim and shocking realities of operating a badly overcrowded jail." A new jail would help solve the problem, he said. County residents will decide whether to approve money for a new jail in a bond referendum Nov. 2.
Hogan said he told Gaston to take several steps immediately:
* Increase the frequency of unscheduled searches by guards.
* Install lights in the cells in fixtures that cannot be destroyed.
* Separate individuals who are vulnerable to rape or sexual assault from aggressive inmates.
In the meantime, the county is constructing a temporary building to house about 100 inmates. After that building is ready in about 10 days, Hogan said, the jail population will be reduced to about 350. Then it will be possible, he said, for guards to inspect the cellblocks more frequently.
Hogan also said he would have the jail's intercom system from the cells to the guard booths "upgraded to improve the inmates' ability to call for help." The intercom system, according to guards, does not work. Even when it did work, guards say, it did not do much good because guards could speak to inmates, but inmates could not call guards.
"Like everything in this jail, it was designed backwards," said one guard who did not want to be identified.
In addition, Hogan said he asked Gaston to fire any guard found sleeping on duty or in other ways neglecting his responsibilities.
Hogan, who appointed Gaston jail director three years ago, characterized Gaston as a "sensitive man" who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and plays the cello. In response to a question from a TV reporter, Hogan said he would not fire Gaston because he "didn't create the poorly designed jail."
Unlike Gaston, who has said there is "no evidence" that there are unreported rapes in the jail, Hogan said he believes many rapes go unreported there.
At the press conference, Hogan described his past concern for inmates in the jail, saying that he had urged speedy construction of a new jail, but was delayed by the County Council. In addition, Hogan said he increased the jail's budget by $2.2 million during the past three years.